To the reader: Most of us would agree that shoving has no place in school, particularly
in this litigious age. Better to play it safe, we say. But sometimes I wonder about our
reticence. Read this meditation about shoving and see what you think.


Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He
overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It
is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are
making it a ‘den of robbers.’ ”
– Matthew 21: 12, 13

Breaking up fights comes with the job for teachers. “He shoved me!” “Well, you had it
coming.” And so the teacher has to step in to deal with the student combatants. Part of
a teacher’s work is shoving patrol. Why is that? Students react when their personal
space is violated, and conflict is the result.

Theodore Sizer notes that shoving is a form of trespass, where students go
uninvited into the space of their peers. Teasing, stealing, telling dirty jokes, and
rudeness, says Sizer, are as much shoving as a physical push. Students can be hurt by
all sorts of shoving.

Is all shoving bad? Not at all. Teachers need to intervene in the lives of their
students, even when they are not asked. Sizer says that teachers ought to be “their
brother’s keepers,” because sometimes shoving into personal space is the best way to
show care and concern for students.

One teacher tells an unkempt middle grades boy to “go get cleaned up.” Another
teacher advises an impressionable high schooler that he shouldn’t spend time with
peers who will lead him astray. In both cases, the teachers took the risk of giving
offense in order to meet needs. Usually students will come to see the value of such
candor from teachers, but not always.

One student tells of a different kind of teacher shoving. After class, his teacher
asked him why he didn’t take a stand on the issue being discussed that day. The
teacher challenged him: “You need to take a position on these important questions and
be ready to defend your position with arguments.” Good education sometimes entails
academic shoving.

What better place than in school to have a shoving match? When student bad
behavior leads to shoving and conflict, the wise teacher can show a better way. Other
times when it seems easier to look the other way, the concerned teacher will get “in the
face” of students for their own good. Jesus himself knocked over the money tables
rather than just walk by.

Christian teachers know their classrooms are not conflict free, but they do have
the resources to thoughtfully address conflicts. Good teachers will even pick battles to
shove students in the right direction. It’s a way of showing students that they belong.

Lead on, O King eternal, the day of march has come; henceforth in fields of conquest
thy tents shall be our home. Through days of preparation thy grace has made us strong;
and now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song. Lead on, O King eternal, we follow, not
with fears, for gladness breaks like morning where’er thy face appears. Thy cross is
lifted o’er us, we journey in its light; the crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of
– Hymn by Henry T. Smart

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College